Plot: Emma Mae (Jerri Hayes) has just moved to Watts from Mississippi, quite a drastic change of locale, to say the least. After the death of her mother, Emma ventured to Watts to live with some of her cousins, so while she is new to town, at least she has some family in the area. She is naive in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to men, but she is strong willed and no pushover, able to handle herself when she needs to. Even so, she soon finds herself drawn to Jesse (Ernest Williams II), a small time drug pusher who also happens to binge on his own products. At first he is kind to her, but he soon begins to take advantage of her lack of life experience, but Emma lines up with him, rather than the other new friends she has made. When he lands himself in prison, Emma launches a dangerous plot to make sure her man is freed…
Entertainment Value: This is the second movie from Jamaa Fanaka, who followed up the outlandish Welcome Home Brother Charles with a more restrained, social minded effort in Emma Mae. The narrative here has a fish out of water core, but Fanaka also includes some thoughtful social and political elements, while toning down some of the more over the top blaxploitation tropes. The lack of wild moments might dissuade some genre fans, but I think the grounded, character driven approach works well, even if the movie is on the slow side. The pace is an issue, as some scenes are very drawn out and there’s not a lot going on most of the time. But I like the performances and the movie feels like a genuine slice of life, though things do take some odd turns as the movie pulls into the finish. Jerri Hayes is fun to watch as Emma, as she has a lot of charm and can throw down right alongside the men in the movie. The rest of the cast is passable, but most are non actors, which means the performances aren’t great across the board, but it bolsters the realistic texture. While it is slow at times, I think Emma Mae is a solid watch and shows a different side of Fanaka’s filmmaking talents, so it is worth a look if you’re a fan of 70s cinema.
A very brief shot of bare breasts can be seen, but it leads to an interesting moment between women, as they discuss concerns over breast size. So no sleaze in this one, just a heartfelt exchange between women. The movie has some mild violence, but no real bloodshed is involved. This means some brawls break out and Emma is often in the middle of them, throwing hands and punching people in the face. She is shown to be a fearless woman, one who will gladly take a swing at a man if she feels that is what she needs to do. The lack of sleaze and violence is likely to disappoint those after a wilder blaxploitation experience, but given the tone of Emma Mae, they’re not missed as part of the narrative. The dialogue is fine, but takes a mostly serious approach, so outside of a marble mouthed thug who adds some humor, there’s not much wackiness. Emma has some nice quips here and there, but that’s about all there is. The finale amps up the craziness a little, as do a couple of the more colorful characters, but Emma Mae is mostly a grounded movie.
Overall Insanity: 1/10